You’ve heard it before – when you think about buying a house, it’s all about location, location, location. This mantra holds true for Tomato Jos, too. Our farm is the single most important component to our success as a business, which is why #TeamTomatoJos spent all of July and August touring 16 different locations across Ghana and Nigeria. We needed to find the right spot to build a successful demonstration farm that we could use as a training center for smallholder tomato farmers. This meant looking at regions where farmers were already growing tomatoes, and trying to find good but unused land nearby, so we wouldn’t displace anyone – no small feat!
In each location, we tried to learn about the quality of the soil, the topography of the land, historic climatic conditions, water availability, the number of smallholder tomato farmers nearby, and proximity to large consumer markets. After driving thousands of miles down bumpy highways, eating popular roadside snacks like plantain chips and donkwa, and even getting detained at a military checkpoint and asked to show our passports, we finally settled on a location.
We’ve kept the name “Tomato Jos” for our company because it’s a double entendre in pidgin English that was just too sweet (pun intended) to pass up. But our model farm will actually be located a few hours away from Jos, near a town called Keffi in Nasarawa State. While there were pros and cons to every area that we surveyed, there were a number of conditions that stacked up in Keffi’s favor.
Weather: Nasarawa state has a tropical sub-humid climate, which is good for fruits and vegetables. The temperature is generally high and there are two distinct seasons: the dry season (from November and April) and the rainy season (from May to October). During the dry season, the sun shines for 9 hours, and sunshine is critical to grow healthy, happy tomatoes. During the rainy season, annual rainfall ranges from 110 to 200cm (43 to 79 inches), with most rain falling in July and August – which means we made good use of our umbrellas and rain boots when we were there!
With a climate similar to the Mediterranean (minus the Sea, of course!), the dry season in Nasarawa is good for tomato growth because of its high temperatures and the long days with low humidity.
Soil: Those readers who remember our video about soil analysis know just how important soil is for farming. The soil in Nasarawa State is mostly sandy loam, which comes from old sedimentary rocks and volcanic activity. It drains well and warms up quickly – two qualities that tomatoes love. Unfortunately, almost everywhere we went, we found that the land was over-farmed and the soil had been almost entirely depleted of organic matter. This is true in Nasarawa State as well.
The lack of organic matter in the soil really troubled us, so #TeamToamtoJos identified a few local poultry farms near Keffi that could provide us with chicken manure to work into the soil as a part of our land preparation process. Over the growing season, we plan to run field trials to find the best ways to maintain high yields while minimizing agrochemical inputs and their impacts. Some of our ideas include standardizing farm sizes to reduce tractor usage and tillage, while increasing the life of buried drip lines.
Crops: At #TeamToamtoJos we believe in the importance of sustainable crop rotation practices. That’s why it was important for us to find an area where farmers could grow different types of crop on their land in different seasons and years, rather than being bound to monocropping. Luckily in Nasarawa, farmers are already accustomed to growing maize, soy and a variety of legumes, as well as tomatoes.
With our farm location set, the next step is for #TeamToamtoJos to build out the infrastructure that we need to get our farm operational. Over the coming weeks, we will be installing our nursery where the seedlings will grow before they are transplanted, levelling the fields, and installing a drip irrigation system. We invite you our readers to come out to our farm and see what we’re up to! We’ll cook you up a nice big plate of Jollof Rice.